For high-achievers, burnout is one of the speed bumps in life that they should be wary of, but unfortunately, due to their “I can do everything” personalities, they tend to be blinded by it. Their enthusiasm and zeal make them inclined to brush off the fatigue that they experience while taking on the mega projects, astoundingly heavy workloads and subjected a huge pressure on themselves to succeed – all of which is a recipe for burnout (Carter, 2013).
Burnout is a term coined by the psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s, and is described as a severe stress condition that leads to severe physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.
A psychologist, Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter (2013) states that burnout is defined as “a state of chronic stress that leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment and feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment”. To summarize the definition, if you feel drained, start to loathe your job and begin to feel less accomplished at work, you are showing signs of burnout.
Are you feeling unsure and apprehensive that you may be experiencing burnout? Below are the list of symptoms that can be helpful for you :
- Emotional exhaustion
Have you ever felt that you are on the brink of breakdown? Have you felt overstimulated and your emotional resources are exasperated while working around the clock or after going through a loss of a loved one? Most probably you are experiencing the symptom of burnout.
According to Scott & Gans (2020), burnout can lead to the feeling of lethargy, unable to cope and emotionally drained. When you are emotionally exhausted, you would feel powerless and have no control over what happens in your life. You may feel that you are imprisoned, encaged, trapped and stuck in a situation (Cafasso & Legg, 2019).
2. Isolation from work-related activities
Have you ever encountered a situation whereby you are casually asking your friend about their day, however you are met with a vexed or annoyed remark? He also refuses your lunch invitation, and that actually makes you wonder, because it is so unlike him to do so.
Dr. Carter (2013) states that in the early stages of burnout, there might be isolation and a mild refusal to socialize. This includes the behaviour of not wanting to go out to lunch; closing your door occasionally to keep others out. However, as the burnout progresses; when someone initiates a conversation, you may become exasperated and angry, or in order to steer clear of interactions, you may come in early or leave late from work.
3. Escape fantasies
One morning, as a class teacher, you notice that one of your students was absent from school. Including today, he has been absent for a fortnight. You go to his house as noted in his school profile, to only have been met with a ramshackle house, and your student who seems to have bloodshot eyes, his speech is slurred. He seems to be under the influence of an illicit drug.
In the school environment, the students might also experience an academic burnout, because their daily activities can be recognized as “work” (Salmela‐Aro, Kiuru, Pietikäinen, & Jokela, 2008). Students in East Asian countries, especially South Korea, have to tolerate more grievous academic stress and coercion due to the cultural emphasis on academic success (Gloria & Ho, 2003; M. Y. Lee & Lee, 2018). There was an ubiquitous and ingrained social belief that being accepted to a distinguished and esteemed university warrants a higher social and economic status which then leads to a successful future and life satisfaction (Hwang, 2006).
In the context of a work atmosphere, according to Fraga & Legg (2019), burnout can lead to frustration and dissatisfaction with the incessant demands of their jobs. They would envision running away or going on a solo trip. At its worst, a person may get involved in substance abuse (alcohol and drugs) or food as a way to desensitize their emotional pain.
4. Lack of productivity and poor performance
Recently, your father has been diagnosed with stroke after losing consciousness and collapsing at home. Consequently, he had speech difficulty and right hemiparesis (weakness on one side of the body, making it hard to perform daily activities eg dressing or eating). As a child who is working from home, you decide to take up the responsibility to take care of your father. However, as the time moves on, you notice that you cannot fully concentrate on doing your work since you have to take care of him. Your work productivity decreases.
Burnout may also negatively impact your daily tasks at the workplace and in the home when you have to look for family members who have reduced mobility or need extra care due to their illness (Carter, 2013; Scott & Gans, 2020). Consequently, the lack of productivity leads to incomplete projects and an expanding to-do list (Carter, 2013).
5. Frequent illnesses
Have you wondered why you still feel lethargic despite already having an adequate rest on your day off your job? Or…do you experience digestive problems, where you have abdominal pain, alternating constipation and diarrhea, and your stomach is bloated? One probable reason is you have a suppressed immune system due to burnout.
Carter (2013) in line with Fraga & Legg (2019) state that burnout causes your body to be depleted, and thus would weaken your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, the flu, and infection. Apart from that, burnout can give rise to mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. In the early stages, a person might be mildly worried and agitated, however as you are edging near to burnout, the anxiety may become so significant that it intervenes with your capacity to perform your job productively (Carter, 2013).
You have been scolded in front of your other coworkers by your superior due to a small error in typing. This is not the first time you receive the short end of the stick from the superior. He calls you a derogatory name. As time goes on, you notice you are talking to yourself negatively and submissively agree with what your superior said, you are thinking, “Yes, maybe I am indeed useless.”
In the early stages, burnout may lead to a pessimistic attitude, in which a person may adopt a “glass-half-empty” mindset. One may be so engrossed with negative self-talk. At its later stages, the pessimism may advance beyond how you feel about yourself, causing you to mistrust your coworkers and family members. You may feel that you can’t count on anyone (Carter, 2013).
7. Increased irritability
You, as a husband, notice your wife comes back home from work one day with an indignant mood. She refuses to talk to you and everything that you do, makes her irritable. This behaviour persists for the next couple of weeks, and you realize this is not the usual attitude of your wife.
Dr. Carter (2013) states that irritability often originates from feeling worthless, unproductive, useless, and a growing perception that you’re not able to do things as productively or effectively as you once did. At first, the personal and professional relationships may be affected; however in its later stages, it can obliterate relationships and careers.
If you notice that you are experiencing some of these symptoms, this should be a wake-up call that you should halt and spend some time to evaluate the amount of stress in your life and to figure out ways before it turns more serious and takes a toll out of your personal life. It is crucial to take note that burnout is not like a self-limiting disease like a regular flu; you need to make a few changes in your life to avoid “running out of gas” (Carter, 2013).
How can you help someone experiencing burnout and lighten their emotional load? You can offer a listening ear, give them reassurances and validate their feelings and concerns, or even offer specific types of support (ie offer to drop off a meal, pick up dry cleaning, or do a load of laundry) (Fraga & Legg, 2019).
Stress may be inevitable, but burnout is preventable. Try incorporating exercise, eating a balanced diet filled with omega-3 fatty acids, practicing healthy sleep habits as your self-care routine. By remembering to sprinkle some joy daily can save you from burnout (Fraga & Legg, 2019).
Cafasso, J., & Legg, T. J. (2019, April 9). Emotional Exhaustion: What It Is and How to Treat It. Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/emotional-exhaustion
Carter, S. B. (2013, November 26). The tell tale signs of burnout … do you have them? Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/high-octane-women/201311/the-tell-tale-signs-burnout-do-you-have-them
Fraga, J., & Legg, T. J. (2019, May 18). A Guide to Burnout. Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/health/tips-for-identifying-and-preventing-burnout
Gloria, A. M., & Ho, T. A. (2003). Environmental, social, and psychological experiences of Asian American undergraduates: Examining issues of academic persistence. Journal of Counseling and Development, 81, 93– 105.
Hwang, H. J. (2006). A study on the stress and its relative effects of variables among children and adolescents. Journal of Elementary Education, 19, 193– 215.
Lee, M. Y., & Lee, S. M. (2018). The effects of psychological maladjustments on predicting developmental trajectories of academic burnout. School Psychology International, 39, 217– 233.
Salmela‐Aro, K., Kiuru, N., Pietikäinen, M., & Jokela, J. (2008). Does school matter? The role of school context in adolescents’ school‐related burnout. European Psychologist, 13, 12– 23.
Scott, E., & Gans, S. (2020, March 20). How to watch for signs of burnout in your life. Retrieved May 11, 2021, from https://www.verywellmind.com/stress-and-burnout-symptoms-and-causes-3144516